Fantasy Football Auction Primer

by Dan Harris | @danharris80 | Featured Writer
May 29, 2018

Executing a sound auction draft strategy can be done in as little as four steps

There’s no right way to approach or execute a fantasy football auction. Google “fantasy football auction strategy” and you can spend days learning various recommended tactics to dominate your league.

Like many fantasy football players, I struggled with fantasy football auctions for a long time. Often time I left myself with too much money on the table, not sure of when to strike and when to back off. In other auctions, I’d spend willy-nilly because I couldn’t decide on a strategy, and would have no sense of when to rein it in.

But eventually, I settled on a strategy that has worked well for me for years, and the best part is that it doesn’t take all that much work to master it. So, although googling will surely bring some great ideas, in my opinion, if you follow the steps outlined below, you’ll be able to confidently enter every fantasy football auction from here on out knowing that you’ll end the day giving your team a chance to compete for the championship.

So, let’s dive in. In my opinion, there are four steps to executing a fantasy football auction.

  1. Create Reliable Auction Values
  2. Divide Players into Tiers by Position
  3. Build a Spending Plan
  4. Adapt and Attack (Note: I’ve struggled with the name for the fourth step for years. We’re trying this one out).

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Create Reliable Auction Values
As you might have expected, having reliable auction values is a pretty significant component of your auction success. I’m personally of the mind that you don’t need to be married to your fantasy football auction values (fantasy baseball is another story). To me, they’re more like loose guidelines to give you the general sense of a player’s worth, but you need to be able to push past them without much hesitation at the right time.

Still, that’s not to say that your values are meaningless. Although I don’t believe you should be tied to them, you should feel confident that they accurately represent the general values of players by position. As you’ll see when you reach the end of this section, you can (and I recommend you do) use the FantasyPros Auction Calculator to create your values, because it is going to do what I’m talking about here in about three seconds.

But, to the extent you: A) don’t have a computer, tablet, or smartphone (and since you’re reading this, I know you do, so stop fibbing) or B) just like complicated math problems, let’s walk through the process of how you should create auction values. Otherwise, skip right on by this section.

The theory behind most auction values is VORP, or Value Over Replacement Player. It’s a subset of VBD, or Value-Based Drafting. Essentially, it merely means that a player’s projected point total is only valuable in relation to the fantasy points projected for the best option on the waiver wire.

As an example, take the 15 players who finished with the most fantasy points last year: 1) Russell Wilson, 2) Todd Gurley, 3) Cam Newton, 4) Tom Brady, 5) Alex Smith, 6) Carson Wentz, 7) Kirk Cousins, 8) Matthew Stafford, 9) Philip Rivers, 10) Drew Brees, 11) Dak Prescott, 12) Ben Roethlisberger, 13) Le’Veon Bell, 14) Jared Goff, and 15) Blake Bortles. That’s 13 quarterbacks and two running backs. But even if you knew that the order would be exactly the same this year, you’re certainly not drafting in that order, or drafting a quarterback before Ezekiel Elliott or any of that nonsense.

VORP is the simple reason behind that. Let’s assume you’re in a 12-team league. Russell Wilson’s 347.8 points were fantastic. But Blake Bortles, the 13th-ranked quarterback and our best option on the waiver wire, scored 249.7.  That’s a difference of 98.1 points.

Todd Gurley, on the other hand, scored 319.7 points last year, an impressive total but one that was ultimately lower than Wilson’s. Derrick Henry, the 25th-ranked running back (aka, your best waiver wire running back in this example), scored 124.

In other words, Gurley was 195.7 points better than the best waiver wire running back, while Wilson was only 98.1 points better than the best waiver wire quarterback. That is the reason you have a higher value on Gurley, Bell, and a ton of other running backs than you do on Wilson. And because even without preparing at all, you know you’d want to pay more for Gurley than Wilson, that officially makes you a genius. Way to be!

Ok, ok, settle down there, tiger. We’ve just established the broad theory on which many auction values are based. We’ve got a long way to go before we’ve created our values. To do that, you begin by projecting statistics for every player, or at least every player that you expect to be purchased at your fantasy auction given your league parameters.

You then take those projections and turn them into fantasy points based on your scoring system. Fun, huh? Don’t worry; we’ve got a long way to go. Let’s assume you’ve done this, and it came out to 8,000 fantasy points that will be purchased at your auction.

You then need to take the total amount of money that will be spent at the auction and divide that number by the total number of fantasy points that will be purchased at the auction (that 8,000 we just discussed). So assuming you’re in a 12-team league with $200 budgets, that means that the league as a whole will spend $2,400, and you divide that number by the total number of fantasy points that will be drafted (8,000). That equals 0.30 – we’ll call this the multiplier.

Have you stopped reading and gone to the auction calculator yet? No. Ok, well, your next job is to multiply the multiplier by every player’s VORP – the number of fantasy points by which he exceeds the fantasy points of the best available waiver wire option at his position. So, looking back at Todd Gurley and Russell Wilson, if those numbers above were your projections, Gurley would have a value of $58.71 (195.7 x 0.30) while Wilson would have a value of $29.40 (98.1 x 0.30).

Be right back, going to lie down for a minute to recover from that exercise…Ok, I’m back. Look, if you want to do all that, I think it’s not only commendable, but incredibly rewarding. I also think you’re probably going to need to quit your day job and tell your spouse that you’ll likely be checked out for awhile. When viable alternatives are available, there’s no need to turn your life upside down to create values you trust.

And, as I mentioned above, my preferred viable alternative is the FantasyPros Auction Calculator, and it’s for a pretty simple reason. Window dressing aside, values are only as good as the projections on which they are based. The FantasyPros Auction Calculator uses the aggregate of several established projection systems.

It’s the same reason we all look at the expert consensus rankings each week before setting our lineups. Why trust one great mind when you can combine them all? I use it for every one of my fantasy football auctions. I simply input my custom scoring settings and let it do the work of creating strong auction values for me.

Okay, so we’re through the first step, and really, it’s going to take you just a couple of minutes to get it done, unless you want to be a hero. Don’t be. Admit you’re just a mere mortal, take your shortcut, and move on. I promise, there’s plenty of work to be done!

Divide Players into Tiers by Position
After our marathon first step (if you decided to forego technology, that is), we’re on to our much quicker and even easier second step – creating tiers. Creating tiers, as you probably know, is merely a way of grouping similar-caliber players, and each tier should contain players who you believe will contribute around as much as the other players in the same tier. Tiers help to guide you during your auction. You may be feeling like a ton of running backs are off the board, but if you realize that you still have five left from your second tier, you’ll know not to panic and possibly overpay.

Ask five different experts, and they’d all give you different tiers at each position, so there is no science behind it. It’s all about how YOU feel in terms of which players you think fall into the same general level of production.

You think the top tier of running backs is two-deep instead of four-deep? Great. The most important part is just that you divide your players into tiers, whatever those tiers may be.

Build a Spending Plan
Your final step before entering your auction is to create a plan for how to allocate your budget. Determining how you want to distribute your dollars in advance of the auction is the key to staying in control when the bidding starts getting fast and furious. There are only two rules for creating your spending plan: 1) Split your budget in whatever way makes you comfortable and 2) write down your spending plan in pencil, not pen.

If you want to make sure you have two top running backs, or you know from your league’s history that you’re going to need to pay for wide receivers, that’s all well and good. How much you want to spend on each position is truly a matter of personal preference and, when it comes down to it, it’s all about how you think you can maximize your dollars.

One of my favorite leagues begins with a $200 auction budget and has the following roster positions: Two quarterbacks, two running backs, four WR/TE, one flex, and five bench spots. Here is what my spending plan looked like heading into last year’s auction:

Now, when all is said and done, my actual budget allocation differed substantially from the breakdown above. But that’s not what matters. What does matter is I had a comfortable framework ready to go, one which I could quickly change in the heat of the auction depending on my purchases.

I’ll reiterate — how you break down your budget allocation is entirely up to you. You want to go stars and scrubs or not spend more than $20 on a player? Have at it. This is simply the breakdown that I used based on my values and how I saw the auction play out. You do you.

A final note on the spending plan — all the numbers in bold are based on formulas. Each separate position is merely the total of how much you spent on each player, and the “TOTAL” adds up the totals from each of the five columns. As you go along in the auction and fill in your players, you’ll be changing the amounts you’ve spent, which will automatically update your total. I’ve found this to be the easiest way to keep track of your budget during the auction.

Adapt and Attack
At this point, all your preparation is done, and the only thing left to do is to execute your auction. There is no one guiding principle or lesson that you can follow to perfect an auction. But there are several things you need to be mindful of during your auction to ensure that all your preparation is not for naught:

1) Be ready to quickly change your spending plan
You’re looking for discounted buys wherever they come, and it could be that you spend more for Aaron Rodgers than you thought you would on a quarterback. When you write his name into your top QB slot, you might have to change that “25” to a “38” swiftly. But that puts your quarterback total at 58 and your overall total to 213. What now?

That moment — where you’re looking at your spending plan and knowing you need to make some changes while also following what is happening at the auction — is the most difficult part of the auction experience. In the end, the biggest takeaway is that you can always adapt your plan further, so don’t spend too much time worrying about what to do in that instant. But get that total number back to 200 as quick as you can. Perhaps instead of the $20 you had allocated for your QB2, you take that down to $15 and then trim $2 each from your wide receivers.

Whatever you do, you need to be prepared to adapt at a moment’s notice.

2) Nominate players that you actually want…sometimes
Most fantasy owners try to nominate stud players in whom they have little interest to get money off the board. That’s a fine strategy, mainly after you’ve spent much of your budget and you want to even out the playing field. But do not be afraid, at any point in the auction, to nominate a player who you do want.

If you know that most of your league has an irrational hatred of Melvin Gordon, you might think to yourself that you’ll just let everyone bid on some other stud running backs before moving in on Gordon, when the price will probably be even lower. Except what if one random owner has decided that Gordon is the last RB1 left, or he merely predicts big things from him, and you’re outbid? At that point, you’ve missed out on many of the other top players thinking you’ll have Gordon, and you’re in a bit of a pickle.

If you have a specific target, it’s often better to throw that player out, so you’ll know whether or not you’ll be the highest bidder. If not, you can easily transition to your Plan B. Also, there’s often a lull in the bidding at some point, when most owners are trying to conserve money and are not looking to make a move. That’s a good time to try to nominate a player you want and sneak him through.

3) Keep track of everyone’s roster
This is tough to do in the middle of a fast-paced auction, but it’s beneficial. If you know that only one other team hasn’t filled his third wide receiver spot, but he has more money than you, you might want to wait on nominating your sleeper wide receiver until he spends a bit more. At the same time, if you see most everyone has their quarterback position filled, it might not be a bad idea to get the guy you want out there.

Personally, I use the Draft Wizard Draft Assistant to keep track of everyone’s roster, but you can do it by hand if you’re a better person that I am. Which you probably are, but still. I don’t see why you had to get so mean about it.

4) Don’t panic
Sounds easy enough, but auctions are about as stressful as can be. Sometimes, you can narrowly lose a bidding war and go on tilt, targeting another owner rather than building the best team. Other times, you’ll get overly concerned about the available players, and greatly overbid on mediocre talent.

Take a deep breath. You’ve done the legwork already. Check your tiers and get a stock of the available players. See how your budget looks. Check everyone’s roster. You’re not going to walk out of there with a dog of a team.

And there you have it. Sure, you’ll still have fantasy seasons that won’t go perfectly, and you’ll leave some auctions feeling like you could have done more in hindsight. But, for the most part, a good fantasy football auction is mostly just about putting in some prep time and trusting the process. Do that, and your days of feeling lost or nervous before your auctions will be over.

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Dan Harris is a featured writer for FantasyPros. For more from Dan, check out his archive or follow him on Twitter at @danharris80.

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